Political and Social Considerations
A presentation by Peter Laurie, author and former Ambassador of Barbados to the USA at a September 21 seminar in Barbados, a follow-up to the September 12-13 AEC Justice and Peace Seminar.
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - Political and Social Considerations
Creating a more humane society in Barbados- reflections on Pope
Benedict’s encyclical “Charity in Truth”
(Seminar 21 September 2009 facilitated by Emeritus RC Bishop
Political and Social Considerations
Presentation by Peter Laurie, author and former Ambassador of
Barbados to the USA
1. The Encyclical’s Observations on the State and Civil Society
Pope Benedict’s encyclical Charity in Truth is in the mainstream of
Catholic Social Teaching (CST), and recapitulates many of the classic tenets
of CST. At the same time Benedict makes some very pertinent observations
of his own on the impact of globalisation on state and civil society. The
main points we wish to highlight are:
• The state has a positive moral function. It is an instrument to promote
human dignity, protect human rights, and build the common good.
• The state also has a role in ensuring that the market functions to the
moral benefit of society. In the words of Benedict “grave imbalances
are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine
for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a
means for pursuing justice through redistribution.”
• Two fundamental principles of CST are relevant to the functioning of
the state vis-à-vis the society: solidarity and subsidiarity. As Benedict
says, ‘Solidarity is first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the
part of everyone with regard to everyone’. The principle of
subsidiarity holds that the functions of government should be
performed at the lowest level appropriate. When the needs in question
cannot adequately be met at the lower level, then it is not only
necessary, but imperative that higher levels of government intervene.
• The state’s traditional sovereignty is being increasingly limited by the
forces of globalization and by the growth of a more assertive and
participatory civil society – what some call the ‘third sector’. This
leads to the idea that the functions and powers of the state need to be
“prudently reviewed and remodelled so as to enable them, perhaps
through new forms of engagement, to address the challenges of
today's world.”. This in turn should usher in new forms of political
participation at all levels.
• In terms of the state itself, Benedict calls for a ‘dispersed political
authority, effective on different levels.’
• Benedict also calls for us to escape from “The exclusively binary
model of market-plus-State,” This, he argues is corrosive of society.
He therefore urges the creation of more not-for-profit enterprises that
are different both from private and public enterprises, i.e. producer
cooperatives, credit unions and so on. He interestingly speaks of
‘civilizing the economy’.
• Benedict also urges the formation of more consumer associations and
• Finally Benedict sees a new role for trade unions beyond traditional
defence of the workers’ interests.
2. What can be done in Barbados?
The good news is that Barbados starts with several advantages.
• We are a small society and it is easier make major changes.
• Both political parties and the public at large subscribe to a social
democratic philosophy of government in which the market is the
engine of growth but the state intervenes both to regulate the market
and to ensure social justice and equity.
• Barbados works. Compared with many other states, Barbados is a
society with a high level of social cohesion. The people also have a
high level of trust in this country.
• We have an almost unique institution known as the Social Partnership
embracing the state, business and labour. This is a good basis on
which to build.
• We have a healthy cooperatives movement that can be built upon.
• We already have a pool of well-researched and widely canvassed
ideas to draw on in making the society more humane. I refer to the
reports on Constitutional Reform by Sir Henry Forde, on Race and
National Reconciliation by Sir Keith Hunte and on Law and Order by
Sir Roy Marshall. These speak to many issues of political and social
reform and they are all gathering dust.
There are a number of measures we can take.
• Constitutional reform: abolish the Senate which serves no purpose
and is merely an expensive rubber stamp. In its place have a
unicameral legislature to which, in addition to the elected members
the Governor General appoints agreed community interests ex officio
and some persons in his own discretion. These appointees would have
the right to speak on proposed legislation but not to vote. Have more
parliamentary committees actively seeking public opinion on
• Reform the public sector. Government in Barbados is not best
structured or equipped to function in the 21st century. It is overstaffed
by at least 25%, is not structured to get the best out of its employees,
and is still doing things that are largely irrelevant and a waste of time
and money. There are several activities that can be hived off. And
there are ways of reducing staff in as humane a way as possible.
Public sector reform should start with a blueprint of what functions
govt in Barbados today (and tomorrow) should be doing, and how best
those functions could be carried out: ministry, statutory corporation,
private sector under government supervision.
• We should develop the third sector in Barbados by refashioning the
Social Partnership (SP) to include representatives of civil society like
churches, NGOs etc, and by empowering ad hoc task forces of the SP
to spearhead assignments such as public sector reform, penal and law
enforcement reform, and other socially worthwhile projects. Right
now the SP is too formal and inactive.
• We need to create more forms of popular political participation as a
way of strengthening democracy. The Constituency Councils may be
one way achieving this or they may turn out to be just more political
pork barrels. In any event we must broaden popular participation
• Trade unions, while not ceding their defence of the rights of workers,
have to be more pro-active in the wider national picture of
productivity and flexibility of work, the aim being to create maximum
employment. We also as a society have to address the changing nature
of work, from long-term to short-term.
• In a knowledge/services economy like ours we need to be constantly
ahead of the game, especially in tourism and international financial
services, both of which are highly competitive, and in both of which
new niches are continually appearing ( and disappearing). And we
also have to engage in future thinking on issues such as non-fossil
energy, the environment, crime and punishment, and a whole slew of
social issues. So I think we need a dedicated non-bureaucratic think
tank, fuelled by the best and brightest, to be scouring the international
environment on an ongoing basis for best practices etc, and to come
up with innovative ideas to make and keep Barbados competitive,
prosperous and socially just. Such a think tank might logically fall
under UWI’s jurisdiction with majority financing from the corporate
community and minority financing from government. It must enjoy a
high degree of autonomy.
• The public square or the commons plays a great role in social
cohesion and civic culture. We therefore must ensure that there are
more and better maintained public areas – squares, plazas, beaches,
playing fields, boardwalks, parks, etc - where people of all classes
can intermingle. The physical architecture of a country has a huge
effect on its civic spirit.
• Critically, we have to address the problem of a growing underclass
with strong anti-establishment values and its own subculture of
underachievement and defiance. It is this underclass that is targeted by
the managers of drug trafficking as dealers, enforcers and users. It is
this underclass that provides the overwhelming number of inmates of
our prison, many of whom are addicts. And it is this underclass that
now threatens our much-vaunted social stability. As a result we’re
facing a social crisis of growing intensity, evident in rising crime and
violence, falling standards and indiscipline, growing illiteracy, the
decline of community and the fraying of our institutions. Part of the
reason for this is that the social policies and mechanisms several
decades ago to uplift people out of poverty, now tend to function
largely to benefit mainly the vastly expanded middle class they
created. This is especially true in the case of education where the
children of middle class families consistently outperform children
from poorer backgrounds. The poor, in increasing numbers, are
dropping through the cracks. What can we do? If we the middle class
set the example of a grasping selfish materialism devoid of any sense
of public spirit; if we shirk our nation-building mission and look to
the state only to ease up on taxing us and to repress the growing
criminal element among us; if we turn inwards and seek private
solutions to public problems (whether in transport, education, health,
housing or culture); if we wish to cling to our privileges and kick
down the ladder up which we have climbed; then frankly there is no
hope. The rot in society invariably starts at the top. We will then
create the very thing we fear: a happy breeding ground for anti-social
and criminal behaviour. National discipline will continue to be eroded
as the middle class grows more selfish and the underclass grows more
cynical. Add drugs and easy money to the situation and you get a
society that becomes unstable and drives away tourists and investors.
The social crisis leads inevitably to an economic crisis. On the other
hand, the middle class may act as if privilege entails responsibility.
There are examples of persons, associations, churches, groups, NGOs,
which, in large numbers, show a strong sense of social responsibility
and public spirit, whether on issues concerning the poor, the
disadvantaged, the environment, health or other civic functions. In
that case, the middle class must be prepared to facilitate, finance and
become involved in policies designed to bring this underclass into the
mainstream. We must revisit those social policies and also ensure that
we target social assistance to those who really need it. This will at the
same time help to erode the dependence of the middle class on the
state and allow them to become more self-reliant and take greater
personal and communal responsibility for themselves.
• Finally, It is possible that we’re living through a fundamental
transition from a system of relations between states (international
relations) to a system of global networked communities (global
relations) of which the state is only one such community.